Daffodil Day: Top tips for best bulbs

Daffodils: (from left) ‘Tweeney’, Narcissus calcicola, ‘Lively Lady’, 
‘Little Flik’ and ‘Segovia’
Sandra Simpson

Daffodils: (from left) ‘Tweeney’, Narcissus calcicola, ‘Lively Lady’, ‘Little Flik’ and ‘Segovia’

From football-sized bulbs to those as small as grains of sand, bulb enthusiast and breeder, Bill Dijk loves them all.

He calls himself a "bulbophile". "It's an addiction," he laughs, "and it started with a friend who gave me half-a-dozen daffodil bulbs on condition I entered the flowers in a show. I won a prize and was hooked – and the next year he gave me more. It developed to the point where I started to look for something else and got interested in bulbs from South Africa, partly because they suit my local climate."

Bill and wife Willie, both Dutch by birth, moved from the South Island to the outskirts of Tauranga 41 years ago with a plan to start a kiwifruit orchard. Instead, after five years working for someone else, Bill set up Daffodil Acres – 4 acres growing some 300 to 400 daffodil varieties – that eventually morphed into a mail-order business for rare and unusual bulbs.

Bill Dijk with a tray of Oxalis massoniana, a bulb native to South Africa
Sandra Simpson

Bill Dijk with a tray of Oxalis massoniana, a bulb native to South Africa

Now retired, Bill is enjoying growing simply for pleasure. He is indulging his interest in breeding, particularly tall bearded iris and miniature daffodils. "I started my love of bulbs with daffodils and when you start with daffodils you suffer from yellow fever for the rest of your life," he says.

Among his successes are 'Wilma' (named for Willie), 'Little Emma' and 'Little Becky' (named for granddaughters), 'Daffy Duck' and 'Dainty Monique'. "The idea is to breed something better than the parents – better form, better colour, a good cut flower," Bill says. "It's an exciting hobby because you're hoping it will be something people will like."

Bill has spent 10 years on a scented, miniature green daffodil.  He reckons it might need only one more cross with Narcissus viridiflorus, a green species bulb. This year's flowering had the scent, size and hints of green, but he wants to make the green stronger. 

Miniature daffodils seem to be more popular with women, while men prefer big-flowered daffs. "Perhaps men think that because the miniatures are dainty they're difficult to grow, but they can grow anywhere and are particularly suited to rock gardens and pot culture."

His collection includes everything from candelabra lily to several types of ornamental oxalis. "Collectors love oxalis but no one else wants to hear about them," says Bill, a member of the Pacific Bulb Society. "They flower prolifically for months on end, come in every colour, are easy to grow, and the majority aren't rambling or weedy. I always advise people to put them in a pot and then you won't lose track of them – and you'll probably feel better about having them contained."

Bill, who dabbles in clivia, has become keen on lachenalias too. Those with interesting foliage especially interest him – the raised spots of Lachenalia pustulata or the types with spotted leaves. He's trying to add purple spotting to the leaves of Lachenalia viridiflora, which blooms with turquoise-coloured flowers in early winter.

"I'm getting too old to start things from seed – I'll be 80 next year. I want to see things flower this year or next. But I have just imported a few seeds of the blue hippeastrum (Worsleya procera), I couldn't resist. I may have to wait five or six years for a flower so I hope to be around to see it." 

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Bill's top tips

• Check how deep the bulbs should be planted. Most spring-flowering bulbs go in about 2.5 times their length, although many bulbs of South African origin like their shoulders above ground. Bill believes though it's not necessary to be 100 per cent accurate as "nature will correct".
• Choose a sunny, well-drained, open situation. If you're likely to forget where the bulbs are, mark the site, draw a plan, or use bulb baskets.
• Before planting, dig the ground over and incorporate compost.
• Never cut off yellowing foliage – it is feeding next year's flower. Plant annuals or other, later-flowering bulbs to hide die back.
• To keep bulbs flowering well, divide the clump every three or four years, and keep the site weeded.
• Bulbs in pots are easier to keep track of and can be moved to hide dying foliage after flowering.
• If you can afford it, repot bulbs every year to keep up flower production. Ensure there is slow-release fertiliser in the new mix, which should be free-draining.
• Bill makes his own planting mix with pumice, compost and sand as the three main ingredients, plus a slow-release fertiliser.

 - NZ Gardener

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